Media seek the story of the day at Tahoe
A celebrity died skiing on Monday. The second nationally
known figure in less than a week.
The coincidence made the tragic event a major news story.
Tuesday morning, an army of regional, national and international reporters,
photographers and commentators stormed the South Shore.
The call to news action came from reports that entertainer-turned-congressman,
Sonny Bono, died Monday afternoon after hitting a tree while skiing on the
Nevada side of Heavenly Ski Resort.
The tragedy followed close on the heels of an accident in Aspen, Colo.,
on Dec. 31 when a collision with another tree took the life of Michael Kennedy,
a member of the well-known, politically active and wealthy Kennedy family.
Satellite dish-carrying trucks lined up early Tuesday morning at Heavenly’s
main California lodge preparing for a 9 a.m. press conference on Bono’s
“They’re just trying to get a good news story off someone dying,”
noted an unknown Heavenly employee as he passed the ranks of trucks.
Later, a skier passing by on his way to the lifts said he wanted to be
Both statements, cynical and flippant, express the range of reactions
Tahoe’s residents and visitors had to what is often called a media “feeding
In the scurry for more information, half the calls coming into the Tahoe
Daily Tribune on Tuesday morning were from media wanting directions, comments,
photos and answers. Media callers included representatives from news venues
in New York, London and Melbourne, Australia, and represented such national
broadcasts as Dateline, Larry King Live and Hard Copy.
In the rush to find footage of Tahoe skiing for morning news shows, file
film that included a shot of the Sierra-at-Tahoe sign made its way onto
the national broadcasts of the Today Show for at least two showings before
phone calls corrected the situation.
“They saw ‘Sierra’ and saw ‘Tahoe’ and thought, ‘we’ll send this,'”
said Sierra’s director of marketing, Tracy Owen Chapman. “It didn’t
Although the accident occurred at Heavenly, news crews also converged
on other resorts for such related stories as ski safety.
“John Rice (Sierra’s general manager) and I have taken crew after
crew after crew around up here,” Chapman said.
The largest army of media converged at Heavenly, where communications
manager Monica Bandows had been up most of the night fielding media inquiries
for maps, pictures, interviews and phone or electrical outlets.
Following the morning press conference, she prepared a group for one
of several snowmobile tours that Heavenly arranged to transport media people
to the site of the accident.
“It’s about an hour round-trip,” Bandows told the first group
of photographers to leave the main lodge. “Dress warmly, it’s extremely
cold,” she warned.
Many chilled media people made shopping trips into Heavenly’s ski shop,
where they replaced polished wing-tips and driving gloves with Sorels and
ski gloves. Others tapped into laptop computers, took notes or prepared
Cornell Barnard, a broadcast reporter for KXTV-10 in Sacramento, felt
“shell-shocked” following Heavenly’s 9 a.m. press conference.
Rousted out of bed at 12:45 a.m., he left Sacramento at 3:30 a.m. to get
“This is definitely a huge story,” he said, citing the “irony”
of two famous people dying in a similar manner within a week of each other.
Greg Larsen, of KCRA-3 in Sacramento, expected to be on the South Shore
“all day and all night. This isn’t going to end soon,” he said.
Such stories, for many journalists, are a chance to highlight situations
that need to be changed. The recent death of a snowboarder at Kirkwood Ski
Resort has raised discussions about the use of helmets. Many snowsport accidents
result from carelessness or not following resort rules such as staying in
“Maybe this will bring attention to a serious problem,” said
Larsen, referring to reports that Bono may have been skiing out of bounds.
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